Monday, July 25, 2016

Star Trek Beyond - Movie Review

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Deep Roy and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung.
Directed by Justin Lin.


After Star Trek into Darkness turned out to be a remake of The Wrath of Khan, they wanted to be a little more original this time around. And they were. This felt like a two-hour episode of the original series, so by being more faithful to the spirit of the series, it was able to break out and tell a new story.

The Enterprise is now more than halfway through its five-year mission, and the crew is starting to feel bored. But then an opportunity comes along to explore a nebula where no one knows what's inside it, and things sound interesting. Of course once they go inside, they're attacked, the Enterprise is destroyed, and they're stranded on an unknown planet.

The movie takes its time to give everyone character moments. We've gotten to know them; now it lets us enjoy their interactions. Spock and McCoy spend a good section of the film stranded together, and their interplay was the most enjoyable part of the movie. (Karl Urban's best work yet in the role.) It also benefits from guest work by Idris Elba as the main villain Krall, and from Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Jaylah, a different alien who's been stranded a long time herself.

The late, great Anton Yelchin is just part of the ensemble as Chekov, and I can't help but wish they'd given him more to do. But they had the luxury of thinking they could just do that in the next movie.

Star Trek is a likable series. It's never my #1 must-see of the year, but I'm always glad when the opportunity to see another one rolls around. Especially when it's good.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond is #1 at box office

For the weekend of July 22-24, 2016, Star Trek Beyond was the clear winner. It may not have opened as well as the first two, but Paramount has to be happy. With how this franchise does overseas, it'll be plenty profitable and justifies having a fourth movie with this cast, minus the late Anton Yelchin.

The other two wide releases were Lights Out and Ice Age 5, but it won't be until the actual numbers that come out that we'll know who took third, fourth and fifth place.

Of the holdovers, The Secret Life of Pets did really well, and it benefitted from Ice Age 5 getting terrible reviews. Now it can dominate the family animated landscape until Kubo & the Two Strings, which is four weeks away.

The horror movie Lights Out did great. Its low budget puts it on par with The Darkness, but that was univerally panned, whereas LO's reviews have been largely positive.

Opens July 29
JASON BOURNE with Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones and Julia Stiles.
BAD MOMS with Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate and Kathryn Hahn.
NERVE with Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis and Samira Wiley.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghostbusters - Movie Review

Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Neil Casey, Zach Woods and Ed Begley Jr.
Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig.
Directed by Paul Feig.


There's one big obstacle this movie faces. It tries to pay homage to the original every few minutes with references and cameos and following the same basic formula, but it is not a sequel. It is a reboot that pretends the other movies didn't happen. The movie would have been better off if it had made a decision. Either be a sequel, which wouldn't have been difficult to do, keeping the whole cast intact and have Dan Aykroyd mentor them for a few minutes. Or be your own thing. But in addition to Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts popping up as different characters, we also get the return of Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Why?

Now I love the original Ghostbusters. Felt let down by the sequel. But I was ready to enjoy this movie on its own merits. So what are its merits?

Paul Feig reunites his Bridesmaids actresses Wiig and McCarthy, and I like seeing those two play off each other as different characters. I liked the broad energy of Leslie Jones.

(I have to have another quibble with the marketing team. They ruined a lot of punchlines in the trailers. Almost every scene, my mind would go back to one of the previews. "Ah, this is the scene that will end with Jones slapping McCarthy once more than necessary and yelling 'The power of pain compels you!'")

Chris Hemsworth steals the show as Kevin, the spectacularly dumb receptionist for the Ghostbusters. Probably my favorite non-Thor role of his.

I liked the concept of the villain, although I wish they'd cast someone more interesting in the part. Not exactly as memorable as Gozer. The budget is huge, so why not get Jonah Hill? Patton Oswalt? Instead they cast Neil Casey, who was a writer at Saturday Night Live when Kristen Wiig was still there.

Kate McKinnon's character is so out-there I never bought her in the fabric of this universe. Maybe she was trying something risky a la Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Some people are finding it hilarious. I didn't think it worked.

The movie's fine. I think it might linger in pop culture just because it's four women kicking butt and zapping ghosts, and I don't diminish that. If anything it felt like the script and story decisions let the ladies down.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weekend Box Office - July 15-17, 2016

For the weekend of July 15-17, 2016, The Secret Life of Pets managed to hang on to the #1 spot, but it had strong competition from Ghostbusters. Illumination had found its diamond with the Despicable Me/Minions world, and now they've found a new franchise they can milk.

Ghostbusters opened a little under expectations but considering how many sequels/remakes have bombed so far this year, I think they have to be happy. It's the highest opening ever for Melissa McCarthy or director Paul Feig. It's also their biggest budget. China has said they won't allow the movie to play there, so that's an unfortunate chunk of foreign box office they'll miss out on.

The Legend of Tarzan has been resilient. I never would have guessed it would wind up doing better than Independence Day: Resurgence.

The other new wide release was The Infiltrator, which never really felt like a summer movie. I admire the counterprogramming effort, but maybe the public is a little Escobar'd out.

Woody Allen's latest, Cafe Society, did great in limited release. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell and Blake Lively.

Opens July 22
ICE AGE 5 with the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
STAR TREK BEYOND with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin.
LIGHTS OUT with Teresa Palmer, Emily Alyn Lind and Alicia Vela-Bailey.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016 Emmy Nominations


Game of Thrones
Mr. Robot
House of Cards
Downton Abbey
Better Call Saul
The Americans


Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None


Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
Kyle Chandler (Bloodline)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)


Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
Keri Russell (The Americans)


Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth)
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
William H. Macy (Shameless)


Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer)
Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Laurie Metcalf (Getting On)
Tracee Ellis-Ross (black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)


The People v. O.J. Simpson
American Crime
The Night Manager


The Voice
The Amazing Race
Top Chef
Project Runway
Dancing with the Stars
American Ninja Warrior


All the Way
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
A Very Murray Christmas


Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Matt Walsh (Veep)
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Keegen-Michael Key (Key & Peele)
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)


Niecy Nash (Getting On)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Gaby Hoffman (Transparent)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)


Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Kit Harington (Game of Thrones)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)


Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones)
Maura Tierney (The Affair)
Constance Zimmer (UnREAL)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Purge: Election Year - Movie Review

Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Raymond J. Barry and Ethan Phillips.
Written & Directed by James DeMonaco.


The Purge movies can't honestly be called "good," but they're a C-grade guilty pleasure for me. It's a low-budget franchise that lets Frank Grillo be the star of a world, like Robert Englund ruled Elm Street.

Each movie expands the scope of the world a little more, and this time around we see a political outsider, Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), running for president on a platform of ending the Purge. The NFFA which has run the USA for the past 25 years doesn't like that, and they plan to use this year's Purge as a cover for having her assassinated.

Sgt. Leo Barnes (Grillo), survivor of Purge: Anarchy, has worked his way over to be the head of Sen. Roan's security detail. After being betrayed, he and the senator have to go on the run on Purge Night, eventually hooking up with resistance leader Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the only person who's been in all three movies.

This time around, the metaphors are laid on in a more heavy-handed fashion. The mercenaries hired to kill Roan wear Nazi symbols and Confederate flags on their uniforms. In ranking the movies, I'd say this ranks just below Anarchy but better than the first one. I hope for the fourth installment they expand the idea more. Let's see a bank heist be the main goal.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Love & Friendship - Movie Review

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Justin Edwards and Stephen Fry.
Written & Directed by Whit Stillman.


Writer/director Whit Stillman has always had a knack for dialogue, and he gets to really show his stuff by translating Jane Austen's novella "Lady Susan" to the big screen.

Kate Beckinsale plays Susan, a widow and mother looking out for her own survival by seeking a rich suitor. While staying with her brother-in-law and his wife, she sets her eyes on the wife's younger brother Reginald (Xavier Samuel). Meanwhile she is trying to marry her own daughter off to a rich idiot named James Martin (Tom Bennett), who reminded me a lot of a guileless version of Ricky Gervais' David Brent.

This comedy of manners shows how everyone being so polite means that they keep putting up with Susan and her scheming, even as they all know what she's doing. Susan, meanwhile, is a champion at finding justification for everything she does.

Chloe Sevigny reunites with her Last Days of Disco co-star as Susan's American friend. She's fine but she doesn't look comfortable playing out of her century.

Hopefully this movie does well enough we don't have to wait five years for Stillman's next one. Heck, if he wanted to tackle Northanger Abbey, I doubt anyone would complain.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Conjuring 2 - Movie Review

Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Benjamin Haigh and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Written by Carey & Chad Hayes.
Directed by James Wan.


It might not be quite as good as the first one, but it's still effective in its own right. Director James Wan is a master at playing with shadows and dark corners, drawing out the tension, releasing it, and then jolting the audience.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as Ed & Lorraine Warren, who investigate paranormal activity, usually debunking it, but sometimes they meet fierce opposition from evil spirits. The movie is able to claim it's based on a true story, and yes it is, but it takes a lot of liberties with the truth of the story for maximum scares. Which is fine. They can embellish another case for The Conjuring 3.

This time the Warrens are summoned to England, where a single mother and her four children are dealing with a possible haunting, especially daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). Furniture moves on its own, a disembodied voice whispers in the dark, that sort of thing. In what came to be known as the Enfield Poltergeist, the evil spirit reveals himself, and from there, the Warrens need to figure out why he's there and how to make him go away.

In some ways, Wan goes bigger here. The third act has more CGI than the original, and one creation actually pulled me out. Too fake-looking to be scary. On the other hand, there are some long-lasting scenes. I still think about the scene where Lorraine is alone in Ed's office and what visits her there.

So while the real-life cases might not have been as spectacular as their movies, it's still a fun journey, well-crafted. Always best to wait until after the movie to look up what really happened.

Weekend Box Office - Finding Dory still #1

For the weekend of July 1-3, 2016, Finding Dory managed to survive three newcomers to remain #1 at the box office for the third week in a row. It's a further win for Disney although it came at the expense of its release of The BFG.

The BFG is a disappointment for Disney and for Steven Spielberg, who hadn't directed a special-effects driven movie since Indiana Jones 5.

The Legend of Tarzan fared best of the new releases, but it's not going to make its money back domestically. Warner Bros. will be counting on overseas interest in order to turn a profit. That seems a tall order. It also seems like another property like the Lone Ranger, where the peak of its popularity was so long ago, maybe it shouldn't be rebooted.

The Purge: Election Year did great. I'm sure they're working on Purge 4 right now.

Of the holdovers, a big drop-off for Independence Day: Resurgence. Word is getting around it's not very good.

Opens July 8
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS with the voices of Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart.
MIKE & DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES with Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick and Adam Devine.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Shallows - Movie Review

Starring Blake Lively.
Written by Anthony Jaswinski.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.


This movie is exactly what it claims to be. It contains lots of shots of Blake Lively stranded on a rock 200 yards from shore, but she can't escape because she's being stalked by a shark.

The movie's only 87 minutes long, which feels novel these days. We see her make her way to the beach, we get just enough family bakstory to make us care about her, and the movie toys with our expectations until the shark finally arrives.

There's some clever, economical direction here from director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night), but this movie will seek or swim on Lively, and she delivers. I never really thought about her that much as an actress. I've enjoyed her appearances here and there, in films like The Town or Savages. This is something she can parlay into being a star.

Independence Day: Resurgence - Movie Review

Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jesse T. Usher, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brent Spiner, Judd Hirsch, Sela Ward, Joey King, Travis Tope, Viveca A. Fox, Angelababy, Patrick St. Esprit, Deobia Oparei, and Robert Loggia.
Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt, Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich.
Directed by Roland Emmerich.


The first Independence Day movie came at the right time. America was feeling pretty good about itself in 1996. There hadn't been an ensemble space-battle movie for a while. Will Smith wasn't a star yet. It wound up being a great summer movie.

In the past 20 years, we've seen a few more Roland Emmerich world-destruction movies, we've gone through 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, ISIS, a huge recession, and a sluggish recovery. This movie is able to tell a story of how awesome Earth would have been over the past 20 years had the first movie actually happened. If aliens want to visit Earth, either as friends or enemies, it would do wonders for the world economy.

Will Smith passed, and so we get Liam Hemsworth. Sure, he has Hunger Games cred, but when you look at titles like Paranoia and Cut Bank, Liam has shown he just doesn't have the charisma for this type of role.

I saw this in 3D on IMAX (Hooray for $5 Tuesday!) My son liked it. It has a blatant open-ending for a sequel, and since most of the characters survive, I'm sure they're all game for it. I just don't see this one burrowing its way into pop culture the way the first one did.